Now, I belong to a network of mums and dads who share the same loss. We exchange stories, everyday struggles and our little achievements. Sometimes it is something as small as getting through an hour, a day. But then, fighting to get through the night, an all too familiar scenario. We know. We understand. We listen.
Sometimes, it is an inspirational piece of craft, a moving piece of music, a long walk or a rant. All of us desperately trying to hold on to who we were and make sense of who we now are, hanging on to the shreds of our being with all our might, seeing ourselves in each other, watching our helplessness and grief spill across the screen over and over again only to gather it all up and see it as nothing but love. All the rags weave together to form a mesh that strengthens each one of us. We recognise our reflections in each other and feel our little angels sending us collective blessings. All that is inside of us is alive even if it feels like it isn’t. It’s the purest form of love.
Loneliness – a disturbing word, often invoking a sense of sadness and despair.
It’s not one thing. It is subjective. Imprecise.
It can be found anywhere.
When after many requests you still don’t have a sibling.
When you are born with skin colour darker or lighter than it should be.
When you are the new girl in class.
When you don’t get picked for the team.
When you sit alone at lunch time.
When you are not sure what you want and settle for what is available.
When you are stuck in a loop of cold-hearted bureaucracy.
When you are different.
When you are told ‘you should be happy’ by the one you are married to.
When you work from home and see no humans for many days.
When you feel you have to be somebody else to be successful and accepted.
When you are unable to have children.
When you have an abortion or a miscarriage.
When you have children and don’t see anyone but them all day everyday.
When your family is no longer a family.
When you have a fracture and are stuck in bed for weeks or months.
When ‘Facebook’ and ‘Instagram’ constantly offer comparisons.
When you get fired.
When you have just retired.
When a loved one suddenly disappears.
When you are blamed for a mistake you did not make.
When you get mugged.
When you are diagnosed with a serious illness.
When you are old and so easily forgotten.
Solitary confinement is one of the most severe forms of punishment because it can break your spirit. In 1951 researchers at McGill University paid a group of male graduate students to stay in small chambers equipped with only a bed for an experiment on sensory deprivation. They could leave to use the bathroom, but that’s all. They wore goggles and earphones to limit their sense of sight and hearing, and gloves to limit their sense of touch. The plan was to observe students for six weeks, but not one lasted more than seven days. Nearly every student lost the ability “to think clearly about anything for any length of time,” while several others began to suffer hallucinations. “One man could see nothing but dogs.” A study at Harvard found that roughly a third of many solitary inmates they interviewed were “actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal.”
In the biggest literature review into the subject of loneliness, the University of York looked at 23 studies involving 181,000 people for up to 21 years. They found that lonely people are around 30 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke or heart disease, two of the leading causes of death in Britain. More than 1 in 5 people in the UK privately admit they are ‘always or often lonely’. It is a public health problem.
I welcome the ‘Commission on Loneliness’ launched in memory of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, to look for practical solutions to reduce loneliness in the UK. Let’s do our bit, however small.
“Fools,” said I, “You do not know –
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you.
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence…
-Sound of Silence by ‘Simon and Garfunkel’
What brings you enjoyment?
This was on the list of questions being asked of young doctors at an interview skills practice session for their upcoming promotions.
One of the young women enthusiastically told me not only how much she enjoyed her work but also the stories behind how the interest started and developed and then narrowed itself down to a specialist area, the places her aspirations took her to and the inspiring people she met along the way. Her eyes shone like sparkling diamonds as she spoke and her smile beamed. Towards the end of her answer, there was a brief mention of tennis, friends and cycling.
90% of her answer was her work. Her honesty was clear.
That was me. My work has brought me great joy over the years. I have spent far too many hours at work. It gave me self-esteem. It was something I could hide behind. It gave me meaning and purpose. It made me look and feel successful. It was fulfilling and satisfying and everyday was challenging and exciting. I loved it.
It took away all my energy and I came home spent. It took up a lot of space in my head for many long years. It made me loose my balance. It sucked me in so completely that I couldn’t see the aspects of it that were draining me dry. It deprived me of sleep for years and it drove me crazy. Yet, I loved it.
If I could go back and change what it meant to me, would I?
But I would cut the number of evenings and weekends I spent away from home. I would conserve more energy for home. I would say ‘NO’ more often. I would claim some of my life back.
One of the French companies worst affected by suicides has been the telecommunications giant, France Télécom/Orange, where 12 employees took their own life in 2008, nineteen in 2009, 27 in 2010 and 11 in 2011. Despite a new agreement on workplace conditions negotiated with the trade unions, there has been a renewal of suicides in recent years with eleven cases in 2013 and ten suicides in 2014.
Suicides took place at a time when the company was restructuring, including a plan to cut 22,000 jobs in three years. Suicidal individuals shared a similar profile: these were typically skilled male engineers or technicians in their fifties who had been forcibly redeployed into low-skilled roles, often in call-centres.
On 17 January 2014, a 42-year old employee dealing with business customers at a France Télécom/Orange office in Paris, threw himself under a suburban train on his way to work. His sister, who is pursuing a claim against the company, contends that her brother had repeatedly complained to his bosses that he was a victim of bullying by his manager. Occupational doctors had also reported a deterioration of working conditions at the agency where he worked, with a rise of workplace stress as a result of company restructuring. Prior to his suicide, the victim had sent e-mails to family members complaining of an unmanageable workload and of constant surveillance and he referred to “humiliation”, “intimidation” and “bullying”. He held several meetings with senior management where he complained of harassment by his manager. Five days before his suicide, he sent an e-mail to his head of service in which he reiterated his request to change teams. These e-mail exchanges are being used as evidence in the investigation by the public authorities into his suicide.
Whilst in France work place suicides are an urgent public health phenomenon, in the UK, despite severe deterioration in working conditions, workplace suicide is not recognised in legislation and there are no specific official mechanisms for data collection. Even when it takes place in the workplace, suicide is presumed to be an individual and voluntary act and according to Health and Safety Executive (2016) legislation: “All deaths to workers and non-workers, with the exception of suicides, must be reported if they arise from a work-related accident.”
(Source: When work kills : http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/JPMH-06-2016-0026?mobileUi=0&journalCode=jpmh)
Health and social care, care of the elderly, care homes, care in the community, child care, nursing care, residential care, respite care … The word ‘care’ is used everywhere but what does it mean?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as ‘the process of protecting someone or something and providing what that person or thing needs’ and ‘serious attention, especially to the details of a situation or thing’.
Synonyms: caution, attentiveness, alertness, vigilance, observance, responsibility, forethought, mindfulness, regard.
Medicine and nursing are caring vocations. Yet, they are jobs like any other. They pay a salary for a service rendered. The care element can potentially become optional as long as all the boxes are ticked.
‘Continuity of care’ is particularly tricky in mental health as relationships are based on trust and every time a new person takes over a caring role, all the facts need to be repeated and trust re-established, starting from scratch.
Now that I belong to a network of mothers and fathers who have lost their children to suicide, one common theme emerges: “It seems that our sons and daughters didn’t need more resources, more GP’s or more psychiatrists or more nurses. They just needed more care…”
Let’s not use the word carelessly.
Alan Turing was a lonely, awkward boy. His only friend in school died of tuberculosis in 1928. This awful event had a formative impact on the life of this young man who went on to become a brilliant mathematician and code breaker at Bletchley Park from 1939-45. Cracking the Enigma code significantly shortened World War 2 and potentially altered its outcome. He was the first man to indicate how thinking machines might be built. He later came to be known as the father of modern computing. He was one of the most influential men of his time and we owe our freedom to him. Steve Jobs wanted his company logo of the bitten apple to be associated with Turing’s love of apples.
An accomplished runner, he also had a great interest in the paranormal. And there is Turing the composer, responsible for some of the earliest computer music recorded by the BBC in Manchester. He is described as “shy, gay, witty, grumpy, courageous, unassuming and wildly successful genius”.
In 1952, he was arrested under a homophobic law for ‘gross indecency’. The chemical castration that Turing underwent thereafter was highly unjust and disgusting. Tens of thousands of less famous men were similarly prosecuted between 1885 and 1967.
He was found by his cleaner when she came in on 8 June 1954. He had died the day before of cyanide poisoning, a half-eaten apple beside his bed. His mother believed he had accidentally ingested cyanide from his fingers after an amateur chemistry experiment, but it is more credible that he had successfully contrived his death to allow her alone to believe this. The coroner’s verdict was suicide.
These countries still punish homosexual acts by death: Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Qatar, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania and UAE.
World gay rights map:
This time of the year is difficult for many families. Financial pressures, obligatory socialising with people whose affections may not be entirely genuine, a perceived time for evaluating various aspects of one’s life, overindulgence, having to revert back to traditional gender roles, the need for things to be just so…
Many women fear the festive period. Not a year goes by when there isn’t a seasonal rise in incidents of domestic violence reported to the police. Humberside Police Force reports that calls rose from 38% in the rest of the year to 54% in December 2015.
“For too many children across Ireland, being home at Christmas, is not a place of safety, warmth and happiness. It’s a place of fear, loneliness, pain and neglect,” said the ISPCC (Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). On Christmas day more than 1000 calls were received by their 60 strong staff on Childline service from children reporting distress due to domestic violence and/or alcohol abuse.
Pangs of loneliness are more acutely felt by the elderly and floating populace at this time of the year. Age UK works steadily on reducing loneliness in the elderly, 1.2 million of whom suffer from it on a chronic basis. Their objective is : ‘No one should have no one on Christmas’.
For those of us who have recently lost a dear one, their physical absence is more visibly, painfully and deeply felt than other times. That one less present, that one less seat on the dinner table, that one less name on the card, that one less beaming smile, that one less hug …